GREENFIELD — The Hancock County sheriff says he must hire 26 additional employees to fully staff a proposed 440-bed jail. But some county officials are unsure where that money will come from.
Sheriff Brad Burkhart presented a staffing needs request to the Hancock County Commissioners this week, outlining the number of employees he believes will be required to staff a new jail. The county is looking at building a jail on county-owned land along U.S. 40 between County Roads 400E and 500E. Early cost estimates put the price at $35 million.
The jail needs at least 53 positions to run efficiently, he said. That number, which includes 27 current workers and 26 new employees is based on staffing analyses completed by the jail’s architect, Indianapolis-based RQAW, as well as the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association and Burkhart’s own findings.
Burkhart said his request for jail staff isn’t out of line with staffing in other nearby counties.
Wayne and Hamilton counties, which both have 416-bed jails, have 51 and 87 full-time staffers, respectively, he said. Hamilton County is adding on 125 beds to its jail and will hire 12 extra employees. The 322-bed Johnson County Jail employs 60.
“I don’t understand why everybody thinks we’re inflating the numbers in any fashion when you look at these other counties. That’s just not it,” Burkhart said in an interview with the Daily Reporter on Jan. 15. “There’s a true need, and convincing them of that need is very difficult.”
The current 157-bed jail has been understaffed for years, he said. A 2012 staffing study revealed the jail needed an additional 12 employees. But since that time, the Hancock County Council has only funded five new jailers, Burkhart said.
If a new jail is built by late 2021 as county officials have previously announced, Burkhart said he doesn’t want to run the facility without adequate staffing. He recommended to the commissioners that six jail officers be hired in this year; 10 in 2020; and another 10 in the first part of 2021.
But nearly doubling the staff could prove difficult.
The county council will soon raise the county’s local income tax by 0.2 percent, from 1.74 percent to 1.94 percent, to fund construction of the jail. Some council members want to slice up that tax increase: 0.17 percentage points of that increase would go toward construction and 0.03 percentage points would go to staffing, council President Bill Bolander said.
The income tax increase would last 20 years, and Bolander said it would bring in about $200,000 for each “basis point,” or 0.01 of a percentage point. He’s confident the 17 basis points could fund the construction of the jail and the extra 3 basis points could be used for some of the staffing costs.
Bolander said the county will look into other funding sources if it decides to staff more than the 0.03 percent allows.
John Jessup, president of the board of commissioners, said he doesn’t think the 17 basis points will cover the $35 million project, saying even though that portion of the tax hike is estimated to bring in $68 million over 20 years, much of that will be spent on interest. The county might also need to spend $3.25 million on infrastructure and utilities for the site unless they find a more cost-effective way to pay for utilities.
Commissioner Marc Huber said the county needs a sustainable fund for the added jail staffing.
Jessup said it’ll take both county boards and the sheriff to find a solution to the funding concerns.
“That’s going to be a pretty big hurdle to overcome,” he said.
The commissioners meet next at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5. The county has a public hearing on the income tax increase at 7 p.m. the same day. Both meet in the county annex building.